Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Don't bother me with pesky "evidence"

Courtesy of my daily e-mail from the Texas Freedom Network:

E-MAIL FROM THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT
Text is taken directly from e-mails written by religious-right groups. The Texas Freedom Network does not edit the content for grammar or accuracy.

Date: February 28, 2007
From: American Family Association
By: Don Wildmon

The Discovery Channel documentary slams Christianity

The documentary claims that the tombs of Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene and a supposed son of Jesus —Judah— have been found, thus making the Bible and two thousand years of history a lie.

According to the Discovery Channel's documentary "The Lost Tomb of Jesus" airing Sunday, March 4, the bones of Jesus-- buried with His family -- have been found. In addition, the documentary says that Mary Magdalene and Jesus might have had a son named Judah.

Here is what The Discovery Channel says about the program and the Christian faith: "All leading epigraphers agree about the inscriptions. All archaeologists confirm the nature of the find. It comes down to a matter of statistics. A statistical study commissioned by the broadcasters (Discovery Channel/Vision Canada/C4 UK) concludes that the probability factor is 600 to 1 in favor of this tomb being the tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family."

Having watched how Hollywood portrays Christians and Christian values for the past 30 years, it is clear that Hollywood considers Christianity its greatest enemy. Because of our silence, Christianity is the only religion they feel free to attack!

It is time for Christians to send a message to The Discovery Channel and Hollywood that enough is enough! Don't stay silent while The Discovery Channel and Hollywood continually attack our faith and our values.

The documentary was produced by James Cameron, whose claim to fame is directing the movie "The Titanic." Saying that Cameron is qualified to make a documentary on Jesus is like saying Hugh Hefner is qualified to make a documentary on abstinence before marriage!
Having not seen the documentary yet (and I doubt Rev. Wildmon has either, unless he has a time machine), I can't say much about its production values, attribution of claims, or the general quality of its historical research. I can say that there is not very much harm in presenting information about something that somebody found somewhere and letting people draw their own conclusions from it. The e-mail above does not challenge the veracity of any claims made by the documentary--it barely scratches the surface of identifying any claims made by the documentary. In fact, Rev. Wildmon does not challenge a single assertion made by the publicity for this documentary. He does say this, though: "The documentary claims that the tombs of Jesus, Mary, Mary Magdalene and a supposed son of Jesus —Judah— have been found, thus making the Bible and two thousand years of history a lie."

I guess one man's metaphor is another man's lie. Rather than critically examine archaeological evidence that may or may not have any impact on his faith, he would stick his nose back into an old book and pretend it isn't happening. And he would have everyone else do the same.

But it doesn't stop there. See, presenting evidence that might contradict one man's narrowly-drawn version of reality isn't bad enough...there must be a bigger bogeyman behind the scenes. He identifies the documentary as a broadcast of a Canadian network, a British nework, and the Discovery Channel (whose umbrella corporation is headquartered in Maryland), and then makes the following statement: "Having watched how Hollywood portrays Christians and Christian values for the past 30 years, it is clear that Hollywood considers Christianity its greatest enemy. "

Huh?

How did we get to Hollywood? And what happened 30 years ago?

Oh, right. Hollywood is run by liberals, liberals hate America, America is Christian to its core, and therefore Jesus is going to kick our asses...the argument goes something like that. Point being, it's a docu-freakin'-mentary. At least try to formulate a coherent argument that addresses the evidence it presents.

Or is "Hollywood" a code word for something else???...

"Don't stay silent while The Discovery Channel and Hollywood continually attack our faith and our values." He isn't so clear what he wants his peeps to say to the Discovery Channel and Hollywood (oh my!), but I'm not exactly his target audience. I guess something along the lines of "Your objective and corporeal evidence offends me. I object to your displaying it on a basic cable network most people do not watch on a Sunday night." Come to think of it, that is easier than actually crafting a counter-argument.

I should note that I am not out to offend or denigrate anyone else's religious beliefs. I should also note that I do not believe for a millisecond that people like Don Wildmon would ever extend to me the sort of courtesy I tried to extend in the previous sentence. So anyone with tender religious sensibilities should just skip the rest of this paragraph. Now then, it may seem easier to draw life lessons from an ancient book of fairytales that has not been edited since at least the 5th century AD (or CE). But really, in the face of a second-rate documentary by the guy who brought us The Abyss, I guess peddlers of a rather poorly-edited anthology of uncertain attribution and extensive internal inconsistencies should be worried about the staying power of their wares.

That said, there are many valid criticisms of the documentary's facts (remember those?), such as the following:
Stephen Pfann, a biblical scholar at the University of the Holy Land in Jerusalem who was interviewed in the documentary...is even unsure that the name "Jesus" on
the caskets was read correctly. He thinks it's more likely the name "Hanun."

Archaeologists quickly discounted the theory that the boxes contained the bones of Jesus and his family because the names inscribed on the boxes were quite common in the region during the 1st Century.
So how's about we quit the whinin' and the bellyachin' and let the documentary stand on its own (possible lack of) merits. I have no idea if the documentary is any good, or in the least bit convincing. If it shakes Christians' faith to the core, that's their problem, and it would only prove that Don Wildmon is not very good at his job. See, faith isn't supposed to depend on facts or evidence anyway, remember?

I can't finish this post without ridiculing one other part of the e-mail:

The documentary was produced by James Cameron, whose claim to fame is directing the movie "The Titanic." Saying that Cameron is qualified to make a documentary on Jesus is like saying Hugh Hefner is qualified to make a documentary on abstinence before marriage!
Ah, the ad hominem attack, lynchpin of the man with no solid argument in the first place. But really, is a film director making a documentary on Jesus any worse than a glorified televangelist attempting to discuss archaeology?

Also, give Mr. Cameron a little credit for The Terminator, seriously.

In closing, now that I've read about all this controversy, I'm definitely going to watch the documentary (Sunday, March 4, 8 p.m. CST).

Fox-style humor

Ha!

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Deliberate ignorance finds a new home on the web

I can't sleep, and this was too strange not to mention. Apparently Phyllis Schlafly and those of her ilk have decided the liberal bias of Wikipedia is too much to bear, so they have launched their own site, Conservapedia. There are some amusing comments on the site's content and lack thereof.

Is it too much to hope for that this marks the beginning of a trend; that Ms. Schlafly and her followers will simply abandon other modes of contemporary communication to start their own? Eventually, they will disappear into self-imposed segregation (yeah, I said it), secure in the knowledge that they will never have to hear a dissenting opinion, have their Christian faith questioned, or hear the word "evolution" again. They will breed prodigiously for a while, what with the total lack of condoms or sex education, but without any knowledge of evolution, flu epidemics will probably be common (since there would be no need to ever update their vaccine supply, since viruses couldn't possibly mutate or evolve without God's help.) Large-scale flu epidemics would be tragic, please understand. I'm just the messenger.


Oh, for fuck's sake, this is satire! Chill out.

Condoleeza Rice thinks you are stupid

I'm not going to bother to reprint any of her argument from Fox News yesterday. My opinion of those who try to compare the current war situation to World War II should be clear by now (ignorant, indefensible, and akin to slime mold).

Secretary Rice may have hit a new low by essentially reversing history and suggesting that we should not have used force...wiat, we should have used force but not rebuilt...uhh...shit, I can't make heads or tails of anything she said. You owe it to yourself to watch what Keith Olbermann had to say.

Seriously, watch it.

Don't come back until you've watched it.

This is more like old school SportsCenter Keith, not new stodgy Keith.



OK, hopefully you've watched it by now. I'm too pissed off to write much more. Let me just ask a (presumably rhetorical) question: if Iraq is so comparable to WWII, why are we throwing so few resources at it, where are all the calls for sacrifice, and so forth? We kicked Hitler's ass after throwing everything we had into the fight, and then we threw even more into rebuilding the place. You can't save the world on the cheap.

New definition requested: "Stable"

I've pretty much given up on ever getting a definition of "victory," so I might as well move on to the next bit of ambiguity. Laura Bush had this to say on Larry King:

Many parts of Iraq are stable now. But, uh, of course, what we see on television is the one bombing a day that discourages everyone.
I guess it depends on what your definition of the word "stable" is. Mine doesn't allow much wiggle room on the issue of daily bombings.

And damn those insurgents for harshing our buzz with their daily bombings!



I try to flippant to keep from losing my mind, but this is just getting fucking depressing.

Monday, February 26, 2007

The Swift Boating of Al Gore

Say what you will about Al Gore, but he made a good movie and he doesn't deserve this:

Last night, Al Gore got very favorable national press and worldwide television exposure.

This afternoon, a group calling itself "The Tennessee Center For Policy Research" sent out a press release denouncing Vice President Gore for the size of his household electrical bills.


Apparently the attempt at a smear has spread throughout much of the internet already--heck, it's been nearly 24 hours since the awards show. The question is, will they get away with it this time? I have long been of the opinion that Al Gore was too freakin' polite for much of the 2000 campaign, but I am conflicted about the best way to deal with it long-term. Maybe progressives need a shadowy corps of smear artists to go head to head with Fox News and its ilk. There are two principal problems with that idea, though: (1) most progressives have too much integrity/self respect/human decency to routinely engage in the lying/twisting/manipulating of basic common sense and reality so common in their opponents, and (2) progressives may be too darned independent-minded to take the kind of marching orders that would be necessary for this sort of plan. This is not the kind of problem that will go away if you ignore it (it would if everyone ignored them, but that ain't gonna happen.)

So I am calling on all intelligent independent-minded people to resist all these b.s. attempts to deflect attention away from what people like Al Gore say and towards misleading innuendoes about who they are. See, there probably aren't very many actual counter-arguments, so the goal is to distract attention from that fact. I'm still trying to get my head around the arguments of those who doubt global warming--highlights seem to include that liberals hate America and that science can be determined democratically if enough people simply refuse to believe something (I choose to reject Avogadro's number. I'll get back to you on how that works out.)

Don't just ignore this, though. It may not be worth dignifying with a response, but silence is really no longer golden.

Sigh.

Intel Building demolition - WHEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting

The Intel Building at 5th & San Antonio, long the blight of the Austin downtown skline, finally went away Sunday morning, sort of. The demolition wasn't quite as complete as we onlookers had expected, although it apparently went exactly as planned, and it drew some disquieting comparisons to 9/11 from some in attendance. Of course, everyone there had their cameras at the ready. Here's my footage, complete with excessive commentary:



Of course, it wouldn't be a public event in Austin without 9/11 conspiracy nuts. Somebody (I didn't get a picture) was waving a sign with something about Googling WTC7 on it. Sigh.

Cross-posted at The Albatross.

Friday, February 23, 2007

SCROTUM!!!!!

Editorial: Don't let your kids read this

This is a good one. A number of librarians are complaining because the latest Newberry Award-winning children's book, "The Higher Power of Lucky," describes a rattlesnake biting a dog on the ballsack...I mean scrotum.

The book uses the anatomically-correct term, so what's the problem, exactly? That a children's book acknowledges the existence of canine private parts? I am using nearly all my strength to suppress the urge to vomit at the thought of a rattlesnake biting anything anywhere near my...scrotum, but that really isn't the point, anyway:

"Because of that one word, I would not be able to read that book aloud," one [librarian] explained, calling it "a Howard Stern-type shock treatment." We have three words for that: Oh, come on.
I recall several Newberry books I read as a kid, and many of them deal with some pretty tough issues. While I am not certain that snake bites on the junk are on the same level as death or racism when it comes to issues children must confront, I am not convinced that this is such a horrible thing for a librarian to have to say out loud.

I wonder what the book is actually about?

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The USA's slick new marketing campaign (UPDATED)

This one really threw me off for a while:



This was apparently created as part of a campaign to combat rising anti-Americanism in the UK and elsehwere in Europe. I hate to be a spoilsport, but I have to argue with the some of the "history" presented here--if there were no America, would everything else have proceeded exactly the same way except with right-wing-talking-point-friendly side effects?

Just a thought: if America never existed, there might have never been a French Revolution, so no Napoleonic Wars, no dissolution of the Holy Roman Empire, no Franco-Prussian War, no World War I, and therefore no World War II in which the Soviets could liberate Paris first. That may be going a bit far, so let me slow things down a little.

If there were no America during World War I, but otherwise everything else was the same, how long would the Allies and Central Powers continue slugging it out on the Western Front? It has been suggested that, without U.S. intervention on the Allies' behalf in 1917, the war in the west might have eventually ended in a draw of sorts. Here is one interesting scenario:

In World War I, America remained strictly neutral until the beginning of unrestricted submarine warfare in 1917. To this, America had to respond, but as the President pointed out, this did not commit America to taking part in the disastrous ground war being fought on the French frontier. Instead, a vigorous and ruthless naval campaign was carried out against both German submarines and surface vessels, whether civilian or military. At the same time America’s scientific establishment cam into action, developing a sonar device as early as 1919 and effectively ending attacks on American vessels. Without American intervention, neither side could prevail, and in 1921, with both Germany and France physically and financially exhausted, and threatened from within by Communist revolution, the Western Powers concluded a peace treaty that left matters substantially as they had been in 1914. Without the indignity of military occupation or the vindictive conditions of an imposed peace, including vast “reparations” from the defeated, radical right-wing German parties could gain little traction; an obscure agitator called Hitler was killed in a beer garden brawl in 1937.


My point is simply that nothing about history is pre-ordained (a point I've tried to make in earlier posts) and that hindsight is 20/20.

All the same, it is kind of nice to have the UK stumping for us, isn't it? USA! USA!

UPDATE:

It occurred to me that it sort of sounds like I'm saying that, without America, there would not have been any war for the past 200 years. There certainly would have been wars, just not the same ones. The Crimean War may have occurred unchanged without a US, as well as the Russo-Japanese War. A lot of things would have been different, though, and "better" or "worse" is hard to say. I'm inclined to say worse, though.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Safe sex never looked so f---ing scary

From the nihistically astute folks at Cruel.com, this may be the most disturbing public service announcement ever (note: not for the sqeamish):



I have to wonder whether this is a situation where the shock value of the ad's content vastly overshadows its message. Safe sex = extremely important, but violence against women = extremely fucking uncool. By the end of the ad, I had similar feelings to those I had at the end of Taxi Driver or Reservoir Dogs, as in general feelings of pessimism about the human condition. Not necessarily the most effective way to encourage condom use. It is, however, a good way to get a lot of blog posts on the topic.

I think I've been played.

Use condoms. This message brought to you by whatever punk-ass freak made the above ad.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

More thoughts on the HPV vaccine debacle

Here's an account of an attempt to put a human face on this saga from the Fort Bend Herald:


Every three months, Amanda Vail will relive her rape as she undergoes another pap smear to check for cervical cancer.The man who attacked her in December gave her a virulent strain of the human papillomavirus, or HPV. Vail's doctor told her she has up to a 70 percent chance of developing cancer.

At a Monday night hearing, she urged lawmakers to spare other young women from the same fate and kill a bill that would override Gov. Rick Perry's anti-cancer vaccine mandate.‘‘I would not have to be repeatedly violated had I been vaccinated,'' said Vail, a 29-year-old graduate student from Houston. ‘‘That option wasn't available to me, and it is now available to these young women.''


This is sort of what I have been trying to get at on this issue. Not all sex is voluntary (to put it in highly inappropriately casual terms), and not even all consensual sex occurs with all facts out on the table. Even seemingly monogamous married couples have the risk of bringing HPV in from earlier in life. But that is not really the argument opponents seem to be making. I will leave the argument related to the vaccine's expense alone, because that actually has some validity (it also requires balancing the vaccine's approximate $360/dose cost against the cost to taxpayers of caring for cancer and STD patients, which requires more arithmetic than I care to do at the moment and will inevitably lead me into a rant against pharmaceutical companies.) My beef is with the argument about parents' rights et al--the argument that mandating a vaccine compromises parents' rights to raise children as they see fit. Never mind that any parent may opt out of having their child vaccinated; all children must be denied the vaccine to protect the rights of some parents to withhold information about the birds and bees from their children (presumably until their wedding nights).


Conservatives oppose the vaccine requirement because they believe it contradicts Texas' abstinence-only sex education policies and strays too far into families' lives. Others have balked at the $360 cost for the three-shot series and questioned the vaccine's efficacy and safety.
There have been good arguments made pointing to doubts about the vaccine's safety/efficacy, to be sure. The "family's rights" argument is always the one trotted out first, though, as near as I can tell, and it just doesn't make any sense to me. Do conservatives oppose checking children for scoliosis in schools because it impacts parents' control over their children's spines? Okay, that is a silly hypothetical, but think about the principle--parents are asserting a right to raise their children as they see fit (fine) and to guide the moral development of their children (also fine) in ways that affect public health (maybe not so okay). This vaccine guards against one STD, so it is hardly a license to throw caution to the wind. I suspect that this quote may more accurately reflect a major objection (and I do sincerely hope there is context lacking here):
Robert Morrow, a small government activist from Austin, said he's offended that Perry would want to spend taxpayer money to interfere with parents' rights. ‘‘I do not think the state of Texas should be in the business of preventative health care for teenage sluts,'' Morrow said.

Wait, who is the slut in his assessment? I do not want to go where his statement inevitably leads, but someone has to--is he calling rape victims sluts? Or people who engage in sexual activity without access to all of the facts because their parents and state government decided that simply telling kids not to have sex would be enough? I don't know. I do know that framing an argument against the vaccine as an argument against "sluttiness" is just disappointing. Pop quiz: How many times do you have to have sex to get HPV or any other STD? Answer: Once.

Is someone who has sex once automatically a slut? Honestly?

You want to argue about the cost? That is fair.

Are you concerned about the adequacy of testing prior to bringing the vaccine to market? Good point.

Do you have libertarian objections to government-mandated vaccinations in general? No problem.

Do you have problems with the way the drug is being marketed? I'm inclined to agree with you there.

Is there evidence of some sort of crony link between Rick Perry and the drug's manufacturer? Let's see it.

These are valid arguments, and most likely valid objections, but they do not appear to be the main objection. This debate is not about cost, nor is it about libertarian principles of small government. HPV is a very effective scare tactic to promote abstinence, and now there is a danger that the scare tactic is not as scary as we thought. Given the general tendency to oppose sex education in nearly any form, it would be a pretty important loss.

This is a fight to protect rhetoric, that's all.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Battlestar Galactica renewed for a fourth season!!! YES!!!

Exciting news: the best show currently on TV, possibly the best show of the decade, if not of the past several, has been renewed for a fourth season, despite declining ratings.

From the L.A. Times:

"Battlestar Galactica" stands as one of the most critically acclaimed series on television. It also won the prestigious Peabody Award and was counted among the American Film Institute's top 10 outstanding TV programs two years in a row. Critics often describe the show in lofty terms, referring to it as a multilayered allegory for a post-9/11 world that raises questions about the ethics and politics of war.The Sci Fi Channel cites the series' strong buzz and critical praise — a halo effect that can't be quantified in ratings points or ad dollars — as the reason for its renewal." 'Battlestar' is a cachet show. It gives us a lot of credibility with the creative community," said Mark Stern, head of programming for the cable network. "It's the kind of series we want to continue producing in the future."
Now then, please please please watch this show!

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Evolution as Conspiracy???

From the Dallas Morning News, this is just embarrassing:

The second most powerful member of the Texas House has circulated a Georgia lawmaker's call for a broad assault on teaching of evolution. House Appropriations Committee Chairman Warren Chisum, R-Pampa, used House operations Tuesday to deliver a memo from Georgia state Rep. Ben Bridges.

The memo assails what it calls "the evolution monopoly in the schools."

Mr. Bridges' memo claims that teaching evolution amounts to indoctrinating students in an ancient Jewish sect's beliefs.

"Indisputable evidence – long hidden but now available to everyone – demonstrates conclusively that so-called 'secular evolution science' is the Big Bang, 15-billion-year, alternate 'creation scenario' of the Pharisee Religion," writes Mr. Bridges, a Republican from Cleveland, Ga. He has argued against teaching of evolution in Georgia schools for several years.

He then refers to a Web site, www.fixedearth.com, that contains a model bill for state Legislatures to pass to attack instruction on evolution as an unconstitutional establishment of religion. Mr. Bridges also supplies a link to a document that describes scientists Carl Sagan and Albert Einstein as "Kabbalists" and laments "Hollywood's unrelenting role in flooding the movie theaters with explicit or implicit endorsement of evolutionism.

I guess the idea is that, if all people have equal worth and deserve respect and attention, then likewise all ideas deserve equal attention. Not to get all existential, existence preceding essence and such, but there actually are some very, very bad ideas. It just seems so self-evident to me. Dammit, I'm too tired to get into this.

Humor, Fox News style

The Blog Bob Cesca: Step Away From The Jokes, Fox News, Before You Hurt Yourself The Huffington Post

I don't have much more to say that isn't said in the posted linked above.

There appears to be a Fox News response to "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" premiering soon. From the brief teaser available on YouTube (I'm not embedding it because I don't want to help them get hits), it looks like the format of the Daily Show, but with conservative jingoism replacing the humor.

A few years ago Comedy Central ran Straight Plan for the Gay Man, an enjoyable send-up of that Bravo show. It was funny because it lampooned the source material without really negating its premise--that gay men have a lot to show straight men about fashion and hair care, or something like that. Straight guys have a thing or two to say about chilling the fuck out every once in a while. The show's humor may also have benefited from the fact that it only ran for three episodes--the joke didn't have time to get old.

Fox News' "The 1/2 Hour News Hour" (sigh...), from what little I've seen, fails because it does not acknowledge its superior source material. All it does is imitate--also, I honestly believe that "The Daily Show's" principal motivation is humor, and the "liberal" slant derives from the fact that there are far greater resources to mine for humor in that area. Fox's show's principal motivation is conservatism, and it proceeds on a snipe hunt for humor. The show seems to proceed from the belief that conservatives can do their own funny fake news show even better than Comedy Central can--then again, how the hell do I know what they're thinking? All I really know is that it isn't funny...in fact it's so unfunny that it's painful to watch.

Happy f---ing Valentine's Day

You may not have guessed this, but I used to be quite openly bitter and cynical. I like to think that my cynicism has been sublimated at least somewhat since my angst-ridden high school and college years. Still, on this Hallmarkiest of holidays, I can't help but think back on those days when I wondered if a person could die of boredom. I therefore offer this little bit of bitterness of old, written sometime in high school and not terribly original. I'm sure it was a longer poem, but this is all I can get from memory:

Roses are red, violets are blue
Women are evil, and nice guys get screwed


Have a happy Valentine's Day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Losing the war of ideas

How did we win the Cold War? Because people in East Germany preferred McDonald's to communism, to put it simply.

How are we winning the War on Terror? Can we win it by blowing more and more shit up? Or is it really a war of ideas, the same as the Cold War? The ideas are different, and the difference between cultures is greater, but this is still more a war over whose ideas are m more compelling--western civilization or whatever the alternative is. What is it that makes western civilization so great? Maybe, just maybe, it is not self-evident to every human being on earth that western civilization is the model that should be followed. And maybe the reason for that is not a flaw in the message, but in the messenger. Maybe our actions in the Middle East fail to effectively demonstrate all that is worth emulating about western culture.

What is so great about western culture, anyway? I could list about a thousand things or more, but here are a few:

  1. Habeas corpus - Protecting us from government overreaching since 1215.
  2. Separation of church and state - America has it, and churches are overflowing. Europe doesn't, and churches are not overflowing at all. Do the math.
  3. Freedom of the press - Sometimes "reporting the good news from Iraq" is just a polite way of saying "propaganda"
  4. Freedom of speech - It was difficult for Soviet citizens to overcome those pesky communists, largely because they tended to kill people who didn't say nice things about them
  5. George Washington - In 1781, he could have taken his Continental Army and made himself a king, but he didn't. That changed the whole course of human history.
  6. The Fourteenth Amendment - What good does it do to protect you from infringement of your rights by the federal government if the states can do as they please?
  7. The Ninth Amendment - We do too have rights, Mr. Gonzales.
  8. Women's rights - Wouldn't it get boring pretty quickly if all women were subservient?
  9. Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin, Marshall, etc. - They had their flaws, to be sure--they were human, after all--but they were also freakin' geniuses. No other country in history has ever been so lucky as to have so many wise people working together.
I could go on and on and on and on, but you get the picture.

These are the tools that will ultimately win the war on terror. And we seem to be dismantling them one by one. In the minds of many who support the tactics of the Bush administration, a decent summary might be that it was necessary to destroy our freedoms in order to save them (ironic analogy to Vietnam intended). We have seen much jingoism, but very little progress. And are no nearer to a clear picture of victory than we were yesterday.

This war is not about freedom, or democracy, or safety from terrorism, or defeating extermist ideologies wherever they may be found, or whatever other rationale is offered as old ones are shown to be false. It is about power. I would say American power, but I'm not even sure that is entirely correct. And lest I sound like a tinfoil hat crackpot, it is not some global conspiracy run by a SPECTRE-like syndicate. It is much more disappointingly mundane than that. A group of people, generally accustomed to getting what they want without much effort, found an opportunity to experiment with power in upsettingly predictable ways (at least in hindsight for most), and now they can't bring themselves to admit how bad they've f---ed things up. We're America, dammit, and if America does it, then by definition it is the right thing to do. Anyone who says otherwise is a traitor (and possibly a child molester, or a drug addict, or a habitual Zima drinker, and so on).

I'll end with words from a more artful blogger than I:

The first plan the Pentagon geniuses came up with was to intimidate the Iraqis into submission by demonstrating our invincible might, kind of like a huge fireworks display in which only very narrowly targeted, and deserving, victims would be killed--presumably the bombs would serve as judge, jury, and executioner only for resolute followers of Saddam, and if we could label other victims as "collateral damage", we could get away with the inevitable mistakes. What the geniuses were aiming for was some sort of veneration by the Iraqis, as if the US were God-like in its power. But the Pentagon could not pull off the plan because technological war is by nature vast and messy. Technological war could not help killing, wounding, and alienating civilians, missing the well-protected ruling class and Saddam himself, and being the first demonstration for the Iraqis and the rest of the world, of who the Americans were--heartless, careless, murderous, robotic aliens intent on interfering in a country that was not generally agreed to be the Americans' business, no matter what the Americans themselves asserted.

Let me end on the most positive note I can think of at the moment: I hope I'm wrong.

"Victory" defined???...Holding my breath...........

There's a new kid on the block, goes by the name Victory Caucus.

Anyone who knows me at all knows that my biggest pet peeve is when people complain about something but fail to state an alternative to whatever has them up in arms. By this standard, I have bones to pick with both major political parties. An equally insidious pet peeve is when a proposed solution is stated so vaguely as to not be a solution at all--which brings me to "victory." So many have lambasted Democrats and anti-war activists for being against "victory." The word has enough emotional resonance to take a toll on those being criticized, and it is also vague enough in meaning to not require anything whatsoever from the person making the criticism. It is my sincere hope that someone, anyone, will offer a coherent vision of what "victory" means in this context. Could the Victory Caucus be the answer?

Let's take a look at their mission statement:
  • Deliver the perspectives and news on the war effort which the mainstream media neglects to help the American public understand the nature of our conflict and its true progress
  • Provide tools and infrastructure to help citizens who are committed to victory organize into a recognized and influential caucus
  • Identify opportunities for the caucus to act and exert influence on America’s leaders and to directly aid and support the men and women of our military
Emphasis in original. A few thoughts:

"Deliver the perspectives and news on the war effort which the mainstream media neglects to help the American public understand the nature of our conflict and its true progress." It would be easy to accuse the writers of this point of falling into the old blame-the-messenger fallacy. The news media is to blame for not reporting enough good news. I have no problem with offering news of positive developments in Iraq, but the big picture still looks bleak. A quick scan of the news offerings did not show much relating to "true progress," but I did find quite a bit about Iran's influence--influence it did not have before the U.S. invasion, for what it's worth.

"Provide tools and infrastructure to help citizens who are committed to victory organize into a recognized and influential caucus." Super. Are you all psychically linked by a shared vision of "victory," or will someone explain it at some point? I'll be waiting. Good luck organizing if you can't articulate your organizing principle.

"Identify opportunities for the caucus to act and exert influence on America’s leaders and to directly aid and support the men and women of our military" That is a superb idea, seriously. Especially since the Pentagon still isn't supporting them enough. The people who demand victory from the troops, regardless of whether they know what that means, owe it to our troops to support them in that mission, regardless of whether they know what it is.


I do not mean to make light of the sacrifices of our troops. I have friends in Iraq, people I care about deeply. And it is for that reason that I want to know why they are there, and what it will take to get them out of harm's way. I want America to succeed in Iraq more than anything, but I am also not blind to what has been going on for the past four years. When things do not go as planned or promised, the administration tries to pretend that they never had such plans/made such promises all along. Truth be told, I have no idea what "success" in Iraq would look like at this point, and I am not convinced that any of the people behind the Victory Caucus do, either. I feel some personal responsibility for this, for not speaking up sooner. America as a whole bears most of the responsibility--we need smart people, super-hyper-intelligent people, if there is to be anything that could objectively be described as "success" or "victory." Instead we have a man that much of the American electorate chose because they would like to have a beer with him (a recovering alcoholic, I might add, so maybe not the best drinking buddy).

Will the Victory Caucus add something meaningful or useful to this debate (if you can even call it such--I don't hear much actual debating)? It is far easier to call people names than to propose actual ideas. Democrats --> Defeatocrats. The sad truth, that brings me no satsifaction at all, is that the course so far is not working. Nothing we say about it one way or another is likely to embolden anyone, because the reality is in plain view. We need smart, serious people to propose serious alternatives. The Democrats did that, even if many people do not like the alternative. The only response they have gotten so far is name-calling. This tactic was effective on the playground, but it ceased to be a good way to resolve a conflict around the time most of us hit puberty.

"Democrats are against victory." That about summarizes the argument.

It is hard to respond to such an argument, as the argument contains no points to be refuted. This leaves our national leaders channeling Pee Wee Herman saying "I know you are, but what am I?" The greatest nation on earth should be above this.

Will anyone step up and say something meaningful about "victory"? Let's look at the Victory Caucus' beliefs:

  • We support victory in the war against radical Islamists. We supported the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and we believe victory is necessary in both countries for America's self-defense.
  • We believe that the radical regime in Iran, while not representative of the Iranian people, is a menace and that it cannot be allowed to obtain or build nuclear weapons.
  • We believe that Hezbollah is a terrorist organization that has killed hundreds of Americans and which waged war against Israel in violation of every law of war this past summer, and will do so again in the future.
  • We believe Israel is our ally and friend and deserves the full assistance of the United States in its battle with radical Islamists. We believe that Israel has repeatedly shown its willingness to negotiate a just and lasting peace, but that its enemies do not want peace, but the destruction of Israel.
  • We believe that the American military is the finest in the world and indeed in history, well led and superbly trained, and populated at every level by America's best and brightest.
  • We support the troops, and those organizations which assist the wounded in their recoveries and support the families of those who sacrificed everything.
  • We support leaders who support victory.
I'm going to skip over most of these and jump straight to the last one. "We support leaders who support victory."

Sigh.

I'm going to the source:

Victory: 1 : the overcoming of an enemy or antagonist. 2 : achievement of mastery or success in a struggle or endeavor against odds or difficulties
That really doesn't help either.

I'm not ready to write off the Victory Caucus just yet. I know one or two of the principals involved, and they are people I respect. I just hope someone can formulate an answer to what seems like a simple questions. If no one can...I'd rather not think about it this late at night.

I am reminded of a poster I saw back in college, from a girl running for student body president against an opponent who did not seem to take the race, or the mpending responsibilities of president, very seriously: "It's not whether you win or lose; it's whether you even know what game you are playing."

Well said. I wish it didn't have to be.

Twisted Lego fun

My childhood friends gone mad:



Monday, February 12, 2007

Do people really take "24" seriously?

After being appalled enough to almost write a bitchy letter to Fox about "24's" Season 4 premiere, in which around a dozen people are killed in order to cover for a sinister plot that is revealed as a red herring by the third episode or so, I pretty much stopped paying attention to the show altogether. I never could tell if the show was meant to be a thrill-ride-type show remarkable mostly for its ability to strain credibility without ever quite breaking it altogether (traumatic amnesia?), or more of an especially prurient form of "terror porn," to steal a phrase, aimed at making us feel safer knowing that someone is out there to gouge out the eyeballs of those who would do us harm.

I still recall how the premiere of the show was delayed post-9/11, then edited to remove the more disturbing scenes of an airplane exploding over the Mojave Desert--now all you see is a orange glow off-screen as the uber-yummy Mia Kirschner parachutes out of the plane and then strips naked in front of a bonfire. I cannot bring myself to fully condemn that kind of filmmaking, but I do have to wonder why it was necessary to blow up a passenger plane in order for an assassin to adopt the identity of a German photographer on board the plane. Couldn't the bad guys have kidnapped the German after he landed, taken his ID and killed him, rather than having the lovely Ms. Kirschner seduce him on the plane, steal his wallet, then blow the plane up? We kinda already gathered that she is evil, and they still could have contrived a reason to get her naked.

Maybe I'm just being square, but "24" is really just the Rube Goldberg Guide to Terrorism. As long as your terrorist places more stock in crafting an elaborate and lengthy plan than in actually succeeding in his mission, a few well-placed electrodes, amputations, and sleepless nights will thwart the plot. I can't claim to know how a terrorist's mind works (I bought a book but haven't read it yet), but common sense would dictate that simplicity would be a key factor, rather than the two or three levels of redundancy necessary to keep a show like "24" going for the requisite 24 episodes.

There seems to be some indication that some of the torture allegations coming out of Iraq may have, at their root, inspiration derived from Jack Bauer's exploits. Really, has there ever, in all the history of espionage and intrigue, been a "ticking bomb" situation like the ones that occur with logic-rattling frequency in the "24" universe?

Anyway, before I end up writing all night about this, I'll just end with this--it's a freaking TV show that makes no sense if you think about it for more than two seconds. Maybe that's why it's so popular.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

Death before having to mention sex to kids, say religious conservatives

Perhaps I'm being a little bit melodramatic with this topic, but I really do want to know if religious conservatives find it preferable to keep life-saving vaccines away from people rather than run the risk that kids might get the idea in their heads that sex exists.

From liberal conspiracymongers People for the American Way:

Following a recommendation by the Centers for Disease Control, a number of states have implemented or are considering vaccinating girls attending public school against HPV, a virus that causes 70 percent of cervical cancer cases. While vaccinations against measles, mumps, and tetanus are not controversial, the Religious Right sees HPV differently: It is sexually transmitted. The Family Research Council’s Bridget Maher warned that young women may see vaccination “as a licence to engage in premarital sex,” and former Focus on the Family advisor Reginald Finger said that marketing the vaccine “would undermine the abstinence-only message.”

...

[T]he Religious Right’s strong reaction against “forc[ing] little girls to be shot with a sex virus vaccine” leaves little room in the debate for details about which form parents have to fill out to preserve so-called “parents’ rights.” Instead, the Right’s abstinence-only refrain makes it sound like Texas is requiring girls to carry condoms, as one right-wing group put it. The emphasis on abstinence to the point of excluding other information is already dangerous policy when it comes to sex ed, but it’s doubly so when it comes at the direct cost of passing up a life-saving cure – especially when many on the Right acknowledge that abstinence might not be enough. Vaccination would protect not only the 94 percent of women who have sex before marriage, but also those who “practice[] abstinence and fidelity” yet “could
be exposed
to HPV through sexual assault or marriage to an infected partner,” as FRC’s Sprigg admitted.

First of all, can anyone maintain a straight face while arguing that the "94 percent of women who have sex before marriage" do so because they learned about sex in public school? Actually, I'm sure some people can. They're wrong. I'm happy to argue that point further, but I'll move on.

The position seems to be thus:
  1. We should not teach sex ed in schools.
  2. We should not educate kids about, nor distribute the means of, protection against STD's or pregnancy.

I suppose the resulting assumption, then, is that people are endowed by God with all the necessary knowledge re: sexuality on their 18th birthday? Well, since our tax dollars are also being spent to encourage abstinence among adults, maybe that is not the case.

Some say it is a slippery slope (yes, I'm talkin' to you, CK)...okay, where would said slope lead? If we have to give sixth-grade girls shots of yet another vaccine is the slope that we would have to tell them more and more about sex, or that we would have to start giving them more and more vaccinations? Today, an HPV vaccine...tomorrow, a vaccine against, uh, herpes...by next year, we will be vaccinating our children against livestock-based STD's. I don't see it happening.

If the concern is about having to explain it to kids, a few questions:

  1. How many sixth-grade girls really listen to their parents? Seriously, I have no idea, but I doubt it's a huge number.
  2. How is vaccinating someone against a virus that renders its victims infertile and/or kills them a bad thing? Why not play up the aspect of "this will protect you from an unpleasant bug" rather than "now you can shag little Johnny from down the street with reckless abandon"? It's the religious conservatives who are constantly cataloguing the omnipresence of sexuality in our culture--a catalog I would totally want to see, BTW.

My point is this: kids aren't taught sex ed, kids aren't taught about contraception, kids aren't protected against preventable STD's, kids develop hormones, nature takes its course in secret because the 'rents would totally freak, and then adults act surprised and horrified when teens turn up pregnant or with STD's or cancer.

Sure it's a slippery slope--I just have not been convinced that it's a slope leading anywhere particularly bad.

And no, I don't have kids. Anyone who thinks I lack the right/ability to opine on this subject because I am not a parent probably has kids who will grow up to join a Sataninc cult and/or lesbian commune to spite your haughty sense of morality. Or maybe I'm wrong.

BTW, WWJD? He seemed to have a thing for helping the sick. Preventing disease in the first place would have freed him up for even more miracles.

Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Postmodernism, redux

The smarmy genius behind the Sokal affair has written a great piece in the LA Times about Washington's general aversion to science that conflicts with prescribed policy positions.

It's amusing to me (for so long as I can keep from vomiting), the way opponents of such concepts as evolution and global warming seek to use politics to prevent observable scientific phenomena from seeing the light of day. Not too long ago, it was postmodernists--usually painted into the same rhetorical corner as "liberals," "secularists," "abortionists," and presumably vampires and werewolves--who made the most impassioned arguments about the inherent unreliability of science. It would appear the wheel is still spinning.

Postmodernism essentially said, inter alia, that scientific observations cannot be trusted because everything is influenced by cultural dialogue, or something like that. I have never been a student of postmodernism, so I may be misstating its premises somewhat. Nevertheless, it is not clear to me how cultural perceptions can affect gravity.

The Sokal affair was an amusing effort to address the general lack of scientific rigor in postmodern thought. From the Wikipedia entry:


The Sokal Affair was a hoax by physicist Alan Sokal perpetrated on the editorial staff and readership of a leading postmodern cultural studies journal called Social Text (published by Duke University). In 1996, Sokal, a professor of physics at New York University, submitted a pseudoscientific paper for publication in Social Text, as an experiment to see if a journal in that field would, in Sokal's words: "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions".


The paper, titled "Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity," was published in the Spring/Summer 1996 "Science Wars" issue of Social Text, which had no peer review process, and so did not submit it for outside review. On the day of its publication, Sokal announced in another publication, Lingua Franca, that the article was a hoax, calling his paper "a pastiche of left-wing cant, fawning references, grandiose quotations, and outright nonsense", which was "structured around the silliest quotations I could find about mathematics and physics" made by humanities academics.

In short, this event exposed the intellectual bankruptcy of much (if not all) postmodern thought.

Now if only someone would do something similar for attacks from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

The motivations of critics of global warming seem clear to me. There are many financial interests at stake, and who wants to give up their big cars, frequent flyer miles, and giant houses if they do not absolutely have to?

The motives of intelligent design proponents, on the other hand, are less clear to me, at least insofar as financial interests are less readily apparent. It seems like we have a dispute over the philosophical implications of either (a) accepting the reality of widespread observable phenomena, regardless of any metaphyiscal implications; or (b) clinging to the dictates of an ancient, repeatedly translated, poorly-edited book of which no original drafts remain (Am I talking about the Bible or the original scrolls describing Yggdrasil? You decide. I don't even know if Vikings used scrolls.)

What we really have here is a dispute over the nature of reality--is our purpose in this life to be gleaned from what we can observe about our physical reality, or can our purpose be determined based on what we really, really, really, really, really want to be true?

I'm going to go with the first choice, that any purpose in this life, to the extent there is one, is determined from what we can see and prove about the world. A cell phone is not powered by faith (sorry, creationists). Neither is it powered by cultural memes (sorry, postmodernists).

Here are the points I am trying to make in this post:

  1. Postmodernism is an unverifiable load of crap.
  2. Intelligent design is an unverifiable load of crap, as well as a breathtakingly dull cop-out. To say that life is so complex that it just must have been created by something, end of story, has about as much intellectual heft as the arguments I painstakingly crafted in high school to get out of doing homework--at the end of the day, many questions were left unanswered.
  3. Therefore, both "liberals" and "conservatives" have, at varying times, put forth worldviews that are at staggering odds with observable reality.
  4. No postmodernist has ever been elected president, held a leadership osition in Congress, attempted to subvert school boards or state boards of education, or generally ventured off campus.
  5. Intelligent design proponents and global warming critics have done all the things listed in #4. That's what makes me want to vomit.

Monday, February 5, 2007

Apocalypse soon to follow...

Texas Gov. urged against cancer order - Yahoo! News

I never thought I would see the day, but I agree with Texas Governor Rick Perry on something. The apocalypse cannot be far behind.

I don't normally like government mandating much of anything, but mandatory vaccines are generally fine by me, unless there is clear evidence of adverse side effects that are worse than whatever they are vaccinating against.

Here, the adverse side effect, if I am understanding critics of the vaccine correctly, is rampant teenage fucking.

I have yet to see any particular study, or even an argument, demonstrating some likelihood that, if this vaccine becomes widely available, then we will all have to navigate through a dense gauntlet of naked adolescent flesh in flagrante delicto just to but groceries.

"Perry defended his decision, saying his fellow conservatives were wrong to worry that mandating the vaccine will trample parents' rights and promote premarital sex.

"'Providing the HPV vaccine doesn't promote sexual promiscuity any more than providing the Hepatitis B vaccine promotes drug use,' Perry said in a statement. 'If the medical community developed a vaccine for lung cancer, would the same critics oppose it claiming it would encourage smoking?'"

Do people honestly believe that, upon being administered the vaccine, young Texans will instantly shed their clothing and go at it? They can't, really. Do young Texans fell they need adult approval before doing that anyway? Of course not. Do kids even pay attention to what is being injected into them? I doubt it.

There must be some other rationale behind this opposition that has not occurred to me. The effect of the opposition, however, is clear. Women will continue to get HPV and, as a result, cervical cancer.

Answer me this, David Dewhurst, et al: why are you in favor of exposing children to the risk of HPV? I mean, if you have the tools to fight a threat, and you deny people said tools, aren't you just as culpable for the harm caused by that threat as the threat itself?

Wake the f--- up, people. People have sex. Remember when government officials told people they couldn't drink alcohol? How'd that work out? Now imagine telling a bunch of kids not to shag. If you can be honest with yourselves for even one microsecond, you'll see my point.

If one can accept the blindingly clear fact that people will have sex no matter what, the actions of a determined few to (a) deny young people education about sex and (b) deny young people the tools to do it safely are notihng less than criminal.

If you persist in opposing tools to help people protect themselves from illness, at least have the common human decency to personally visit every single HPV-positive cervical cancer patient in America to explain why your politics is more important than their lives.

Sunday, February 4, 2007

Irony

From the February 3 Washington Post:

President Bush, forced by circumstance to reach out to some of his strongest adversaries, appealed directly to House Democrats on Saturday to work with him to reform the immigration system, limit the cost of Social Security, curb the consumption of gasoline and balance the federal budget.

Visiting the Democrats' annual retreat for the first time since 2001, the president told lawmakers there are "big things" they could accomplish by working together and sought to defuse any bad blood with self-deprecating humor. He opened his public remarks with an allusion to his tendency to mispronounce the name of the rival party by calling it the Democrat Party, seen by many party activists as a
calculated insult.

"I appreciate you inviting the head of the Republic Party," Bush said to laughter. He drew scattered applause a few moments later when he used the correct name in calling on the "Democratic Party" to work with him to address the mounting future liabilities of Social Security and Medicare.

Democrats rose to politely applaud Bush before and after the speech, a sign of the outwardly cordial and respectful nature of the day's session.

From the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

Irony: (1) : incongruity between the actual result of a sequence of events and the normal or expected result (2) : an event or result marked by such incongruity.

Friday, February 2, 2007

More on Molly

From an excellent post by Kevin Hayden:

If you ever heard her speak, while her wit was sharp as steel, her delivery and voice had the grace of silk. It’s been said that ‘diplomacy is when someone tells you to “Go to hell” and makes it sound like an enjoyable place to visit.’ Molly was no diplomat, but face-to-face in a debate, I’m sure her opponents felt like they’d just gotten beat up by Audrey Hepburn or Shirley Temple.

Consider what she wrote in September, the same month her friend Ann Richards also fell to
the only foe that ever defeated Molly.

The earthy Texas humor in her writing gave way to an exquisite grace that was utterly disarming.
Listen to her speak of Tom Delay, to understand what I mean about the grace in the way she spoke.

Teens develop mad crushes on rock stars and actors. I spent much of my adult life mad about Molly. It didn’t matter that she was tall and large and fit no conventional definition of beautiful. Because when she smiled, nobody smiled wider. She was, to me, the greatest columnist that ever lived. I will miss her.

My condolences to her family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, employers, every liberal in America, to Texas, to America itself and to the world.

If anything, I’m sure Molly would be about laughter now, not sadness. And encouraging us to fight on in her stead.

Sure, I’m sad, but there’s no time to wallow. In her honor, go needle a Republican. Then let’s go Chimpeach the Shrub.

A few choice selections from her NYT obituary:

After Patrick J. Buchanan, as a conservative candidate for president, declared at the 1992 Republican National Convention that America was engaged in a cultural war, she said his speech “probably sounded better in the original German.”
...

Her subject was Texas. To her, the Great State, as she called it, was “reactionary, cantankerous and hilarious,” and its legislature was “reporter heaven.” When the legislature was set to convene, she warned her readers: “Every village is about to lose its idiot.”

Her Texas upbringing made her something of an expert on the Bush family. She viewed President
George H.W. Bush benignly. (“Real Texans do not use the word ‘summer’ as a verb,” she wrote.)
...

In 1976, her writing, which she said was often fueled by “truly impressive amounts of beer,” landed her a job at The New York Times. She cut an unusual figure in The Times newsroom, wearing blue jeans, going barefoot and bringing in her dog, whose name was an expletive.
...

She quit The Times in 1982 after The Dallas Times Herald offered to make her a columnist. She took the job even though she loathed Dallas, once describing it as the kind of town “that would have rooted for Goliath to beat David.”

But the paper, she said, promised to let her write whatever she wanted. When she declared of a congressman, “If his I.Q. slips any lower, we’ll have to water him twice a day,” many readers were appalled, and several advertisers boycotted the paper. In her defense, her editors rented billboards that read: “Molly Ivins Can’t Say That, Can She?” The slogan became the title of the first of her six books.
...

Ms. Ivins learned she had breast cancer in 1999 and was typically unvarnished in describing her treatments. “First they mutilate you; then they poison you; then they burn you,” she wrote. “I have been on blind dates better than that.”

But she continued to write her columns and continued to write and raise money for The Observer.

Indeed, rarely has a reporter so embodied the ethos of her publication. On the paper’s 50th anniversary in 2004, she wrote: “This is where you can tell the truth without the bark on it, laugh at anyone who is ridiculous, and go after the bad guys with all the energy you have.”

Texas will never be as great as it was with you in it.

Thursday, February 1, 2007

RIP, Texas ladies

Texas has been diminished more than I think we can ever really know with the loss of two of its greatest, Ann Richards and Molly Ivins, in so short a time.

I lack the words.

We'll miss you.

Ann Richards

Ann Richard's keynote address, 1988 Democratic National Convention

Ann Richards quotes (among others):

“Poor George [Bush], he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth.”

“I've always said that in politics, your enemies can't hurt you, but your friends will kill you.”


Molly Ivins on Ann Richards:

“Anyone who ever heard her speak at an AA convention knows how close laughter and tears can be.”
More Ann Richards quotes:

"I get a lot of cracks about my hair, mostly from men who don't have any."

"The here and now is all we have, and if we play it right it's all we'll need."
Molly Ivins' columinst page at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram